What if the defensive ends on the Dallas Cowboys are actually...wait for it...good? Sure, this team's pass rush as a whole isn't dominant, with defensive end being a position Cowboys Nation expects to see addressed in the offseason, but things could have been a lot worse this season when it comes to Rod Marinelli's defense getting after the quarterback.
For now, the pass rushers on this team are going to be called upon to continue to get the job done in the playoffs, and its time to study this position further with some Dallas Cowboys Playoff Primer.
Benson Mayowa may very well have to be the Cowboys' best defensive end this postseason. Relatively well rested, Mayowa saw Randy Gregory get some of his snaps over the last two weeks of the regular season, only to be suspended again for the playoffs and 2017.
Rushing solely from the right defensive end position, Mayowa - when he wants to - shows the skill that Dallas saw in him this offseason to sign the young rusher to a three-year deal. If he's not attacking left tackles right down the middle and getting held in check at the line of scrimmage, Mayowa is bending around the corner with violent hands and pressuring the quarterback.
Undoubtedly the best true RDE this team has for the playoffs, Mayowa is going to need to prove his worth by giving maximum effort over potentially the next three weeks.
David Irving has burst onto the scene with the Cowboys this season, jump starting his career under defensive-line guru Rod Marinelli after signing with Dallas in 2015. With three sacks in his last three games, Irving has found ways to get to the quarterback more consistently both as a defensive end and interior tackle.
Primarily playing as an end during his recent hot streak, David Irving has found a way to set up unsuspecting right tackles with some polished counter moves and surprising bend to go with his freakish length and athleticism.
In the Cowboys' previous meeting with the Green Bay Packers, Irving was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week by forcing three fumbles and sacking Aaron Rodgers once despite playing just 19 snaps.
Wherever he lines up this week and throughout the playoffs, opposing offenses are going to have to be aware of #95 in white, which is something we didn't necessarily expect to say about many Dallas defenders this season.
Tyrone Crawford is somewhat of a man without a position on the Cowboys defensive line right now, despite being their highest paid player. Once thought to be in store for a big season at the 3T DT position, Crawford has been forced to play at left defensive end due to injuries and lack of depth.
It hasn't been all bad for Crawford as an edge rusher though, as he will flash at times as a pass rusher, while always playing as a formidable strong side run defender.
Getting around the edge with Tyrone Crawford playing LDE will be a tall task for the Packers running game, especially with the Cowboys' cast of linebackers rallying to the ball around him. If Crawford can also find a spark over the next few weeks as a pass rusher, the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line will turn into one of the strongest remaining in the playoffs.
Who would have thought?
Jack Crawford is the "Mr. Do It All" of the Cowboys' defensive front, back in 2016 on a one-year deal to add depth as a situational rusher at multiple positions.
While Crawford's impact in the playoffs will realistically be pretty marginal, he is a legitimate and athletic piece to this defense - fitting the mold seen throughout this "orphan" lineup.
Gone are the days of non-scheme fits like Nick Hayden eating up snaps defensively for the Cowboys, because they have a player like Jack Crawford to give them maximum effort as a speed rushing end and penetrating defensive tackle when called upon.
If Dallas isn't going to blitz Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, opting instead to play coverage, the next best thing they may be able to do is unleash Jack Crawford on some obvious passing downs.
I saved DeMarcus Lawrence for last in this Playoff Primer, and it's because we need to have a talk about the Cowboys' young defensive end. Just you and I.
When things looked darkest for this defensive line coming into the season, we all took just a bit of solace in the fact that this "emerging star" in Lawrence was going to be on the field.- at least after his four game suspension, handed down as a result of his back injury and the drugs he used to deal with it.
While I joined in on my fair share of hype with Cowboys Nation for Lawrence's 2016 campaign, a part of me always thought that his season would turn out just like this.
Lingering back injuries have kept Lawrence out of the last four games, and the six he's played have resulted in just one sack. DeMarcus Lawrence was asked to be the guy this season for the Cowboys pass rush, but has always profiled more like a second rusher.
The hope is that Dallas, who will gladly welcome a "second rusher" in DeMarcus Lawrence to join the rotation they'll undoubtedly be relying on over the coming weeks, gets something positive out of Lawrence to refocus with their 2014 draft pick for 2017.
The explosive play has not been there for Lawrence this season like it was in 2015 though, and I highly doubt it will return in time for him to take over games when they matter the most.
To conclude Playoff Primer here at Inside The Star, I'll be looking at the secondary with the safeties and corner backs prior to Sunday's Divisional Round game at AT&T Stadium.
WR Randall Cobb Named Cowboys “Surprise Standout” for Offseason
NFL teams have wrapped up their offseason activities with the close of OTAs, especially where the players are concerned, and await the start of training camps next month. In reviewing the last few months, ESPN had their local reporters each pick a surprise standout from their team's practices. Todd Archer, who covers the Dallas Cowboys full time, selected veteran receiver Randall Cobb.
Cobb is in his first season with Dallas after signing as a free agent last March. He's spent the last eight years with the Green Bay Packers and was a Pro Bowler in 2014, but has struggled with injuries the last few seasons.
Here were Archer's observations on how Randall is doing so far with the Cowboys:
Normally a player with Cobb's résumé -- 470 catches for 5,524 yards and 41 touchdowns during his career -- would not be considered for a category like this. But injuries limited him to only nine games and 38 catches for Green Bay in 2018, and it was hard to know what the Cowboys were getting in the veteran receiver.
If the offseason work is any indication, they have found a replacement for Cole Beasley. Cobb's versatility can expand the offense for others, such as Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cobb looked quick in and out of his breaks and fast enough to make plays down the field. Will he put up the 1,287 yards he had in 2014? No, but he gives Dak Prescott a security blanket in the slot who can turn a small gain into a big one.
The notion of Cobb replacing Beasley is a big one. While we'd like to think that Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup will provide plenty of firepower for the Cowboys offense, Dak Prescott has enjoyed a reliable threat from the slot position since he arrived.
Randall Cobb, when healthy, can do more than just make clutch catches. He has good run-after-catch skills and perhaps bring more big play potential than Beasley did.
If Cooper and Gallup do emerge as a dangerous starting duo on the outside, Cobb should have even more opportunities to punish defenses than Beasley did.
If nothing else, it's very encouraging to hear that one of the Cowboys' few 2019 free agent moves is already reaping benefits. Cobb still needs to bring it over a full season to really justify the move, but these early reports are cause for excitement.
BREAKING: Cowboys TE Rico Gathers Receives One-Game Suspension
Tight End Rico Gathers already had an uphill climb to return to the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster in 2019. But that climb just got even steeper; the NFL handed down a one-game suspension to Gathers today for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
If he does make the team this year, with Dallas or anyone else, Rico will have to sit out Week One of the season without pay.
Cowboys TE Rico Gathers is suspended without pay for the first game of the 2019 regular season for violating the NFL's policy and program on substances of abuse. This is from his arrest in 2018 for marijuana possession.
Gathers' chances of returning in 2019 were already hurt by Jason Witten's reversed retirement. He dropped to fourth on the TE depth chart behind Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz, and Dallas only kept three tight ends last year.
The Cowboys also added Codey McElroy as a developmental player during the offseason.
While the suspension is news, the incident that led to it is not. Dallas already knew about the arrest, which occurred in early September of 2018, and have kept Gathers around up until now.
The NFL's substance abuse system is pretty formulaic, so the Cowboys likely anticipated this suspension all along. This may not change anything about how they value Rico Gathers for the 2019 season.
Nevertheless, a player who can't help you in Week One and is a liability for ever longer suspensions down the road is definitely a red flag against Gathers' job security.
Antwaun Woods: Cowboys DT is Just Getting Started
Antwaun Woods went undrafted in 2016 coming out of USC. After two years with the Tennessee Titans, he would only see one game of action. In May of 2018, the Cowboys signed Woods to a two-year contract worth 1.05 million. Probably seen as nothing more than a practice squad guy, Woods would quickly show he was much more than that.
The newly acquired Woods started his climb to stardom in Oxnard during training camp, and not for making plays. One day during practice he got into a friendly game of fisticuffs with All-Pro Center Travis Frederick. The team even posted the video on social media, which had fans buzzing and wanting to know who he was.
All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott echoed those thoughts when he saw Woods during camp. "Honestly, when we first got him, we were like, 'Who is this guy?'. He was giving Travis Frederick, one of our best players, hell all camp. Just trying to figure out where this guy came from," Elliott said.
Once the regular season started it was clear the Cowboys had found a hidden gem. Although the sack numbers won't dazzle you, seeing as he only registered 1.5, you could forget about running the ball anywhere near him. Woods has amazing quickness for a 300 pounder which allows him to extend his arms before offensive lineman can get a hand on him.
How significant is that? It becomes that much easier to bull rush and blow running plays up in the backfield.
When you can get your hands on an offensive lineman immediately when the ball is snapped, he's basically under your control. You can move him around like a puppet on a string. Essential for a 1-technique nose tackle. With that being said, there should be no surprise the Cowboys finished fifth against the run in 2018 with Woods manning the middle.
Woods draws a lot of double teams, and he handles them well. Having the ability to take on multiple linemen frees up your other playmakers. As the anchor in the middle, Woods made life a lot easier for not only his fellow defensive linemen but the team's two young star Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Allowing them to roam freely like Lions in the Serengeti makes running backs essentially Zebra's carrying the ball, cooked food. So much so that both tallied over 120 tackles and were the only teammates in the NFL to rank in the top 15 in that category.
There's nothing but upside with Antwaun Woods. He's only had 18 games of experience in three years. He's already a stud, but with limited snaps, it can only mean he'll be even more formidable going forward.
The Cowboys have a loaded defensive lineman group with around 15 bodies, plenty of competition. All signs point to him remaining the starter, but it's not guaranteed. Even with that being said I don't expect a complacency from Woods, especially with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn looking like the only sure starters on the defensive line. Plus this is a contract year for him, so you know he'll be even more motivated as he tries to maximize his dollars. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg from this raw talent, setting up for a potential breakout year for him in 2019.
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